Year One (review)

The Book of Bad

Thanks so much, everyone involved in Year One, for setting back the noble causes of blasphemy, rational thinking, and humanism about a century. Now everyone who publicly states that the Old Testament is nothing more than the nonsensical, contradictory, vicious, and wildly archaic ramblings of itinerant goatherders will be lumped in with you guys, who appear to consider jokes about rape, incest, bestiality, farts, boobies, and vomit the height of Biblical criticism, not to mention the height of wit.
If Mel Brooks got a lobotomy and then remade The Passion of the Christ… but no, even that would be more intriguing than this sub-juvenile shitpile that time-travels through the highlights of the Old Testament so that Jack Black can quirk his eyebrow and thrust his rotund belly at them. Because someone thought that would be funny, apparently. If you’re five years old and have not yet encountered the fact that women have hair in their armpits, this may in fact be funny. For most of us, though, the worst crime a comedy can commit is to not be funny, and this one is asking for some serious smiting.

So it’s only the second worst of Year One’s cinematic crimes that it doesn’t even have the nerve to be profane. The closest it comes is one character wondering, “Why all the genital mutilation?” after Abraham comes out in favor of circumcision. If you’re hoping for a movie like Monty Python’s Life of Brian, for a movie that dares to suggest that religion is a crock, forget it. (I might lose my faith in movies after this one, though.) Not that Hollywood would go near such daring today, even if Brian was a hit, comparatively speaking, 30 years ago.

If pointless crudity is your game, though, well, here you go. You can watch Black (Tropic Thunder, Kung Fu Panda) as lazy, stupid hunter-gather Zed, who plucks a glowing fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, eats it, and gets not one IQ point smarter. For this forbidden act — there’s no hint as to why it might be forbidden — his tribe kicks him out of a village that looks nothing like even a caricature of the Garden of Eden. (Remarkably, or perhaps not, Yahweh is entirely absent as a character here, which is akin to telling the story of, say, The Lord of the Rings and pretending that Sauron isn’t a factor.) And so begins his journey through a sort of theme park version of the Old Testament — look, there’s Cain killing Abel! there’s Abraham about to sacrifice his son! oooo, Sodom! — with only sweet-faced gatherer Oh (Michael Cera: Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Juno) for company.

Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, both writers for TV’s The Office, and Harold Ramis (Ramis directed) haven’t bothered with any actual jokes: they just lob in a bit of poo or homophobia when things start to lag — which is basically constant — and skip directly over moments that appear to demand a punchline, as in two instances of mortal peril for Oh that he inexplicably has escaped from after a jarring edit. After all the disgusting and meaningless grossout humor, that kind of idiocy is just plain insulting to the audience.

Black and Cera deserve better than this, and I refuse to believe that Ramis — the man who wrote such genuinely hilarious and subversive classics as Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day — really believes this crap is funny. Unless he’s been lobotomized. And I refuse to believe that Ramis couldn’t have made the smart, irreverent version of this movie that he surely wanted to make, even if that meant financing it without studio assistance and even if that meant facing the ire of religionists who think their beliefs are immune from criticism.

Actually, maybe that’s Year One’s worst crime: it’s spineless, pandering to a mainstream audience that finds cheap corporal vulgarity acceptable but won’t brook any challenge to its accepted wisdom. I wish I could even merely suspect that someone here was sneakily trying to highlight how vile the Old Testament is in its violence, tribalism, and misogyny, but I don’t think that’s the case at all.

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